Posts Tagged ‘workboxes’

New Workboxes

IMG_0270 OK, I can never leave well enough alone! I just have to keep fiddling with things. But I really needed the space in my new book case for BOOKS, which over-run my house! Besides, I found these neat plastic drawer units on sale at Walmart for $9.00 per set. What you see here is two sets put together. They come with 2 large drawers and 3 smaller ones in each unit, but they can be taken apart and rearranged, which I did, of course. Now, that only gives me 10 drawers instead of 12 shoeboxes, but I put one of the shoeboxes on top for snacks, and we never use all the boxes, anyway. The drawers are large enough for most books, clipboards, papers and notebooks to lay flat. The color even matches my bookcase and trim in the upstairs room where we mostly homeschool.

Added note on our current workbox use: Initially Dana loved the whole idea of workboxes so much that he could not get enough, but maybe it pushed him too hard. Covering so many different things in one day seemed to tire him out. He is a boy who needs processing time, and since he is learning things very well the first time they are presented (when he is maturationally ready), I have rethought how much formal work he should be expected to do in a day. I still prepare the boxes (usually about 8), but when he starts to burn out or seems to want to follow one of his other interests for a while, we stop and leave the rest of the boxes for the next day. We just pick up there and go on. I can still use lesson plans as long as I don’t date them. I just check off what is completed. Sometimes he wants to work on them on Saturday. We also pay no attention to the public school calendar, except for scheduling things with kids who go to ps, or scheduling field trips when it will probably be less crowded. This means we can go all year around, off and on to suit ourselves and our family plans. We try not to do grade levels, anyway. And using Math on the Level has him working where he needs to be, not according to grade level expectations. So we are moving along quite nicely, even if we have short instructional days. He is also learning from other sources, like his robotics (both alone and with the 4-H robotics workgroup, which we are continuing at our house), some computer programs, DVDs, and activities with friends, like the nature scavenger hunt in the woods that we have planned.

So here is the latest on how we use workboxes. For my previous posts on using workboxes, see “older posts” if they are not lower down on this page.


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This is mostly a list and description of my chosen resources for the coming year. 

We homeschoolers should think of all our books and other materials, curriculum choices, planning and organization approaches, and philosophies and styles as tools in our toolbox of homeschooling, to paraphrase Debi Z. on the Math On the Level group. As Debi says, “Use the tools you need when you need them. Don’t feel guilty if you never need the pliers.” In other words, take what you need and use it your way at the time when it works the best. Don’t worry that you are not using it someone else’s way or not doing all of it.

With that in mind, here are some of the tools I plan to use in my own adapted way as my 9-year-old boy moves into his 4th year of homeschooling.

I will start with the basics and explain that my philosophy and style of homeschooling have changed from the beginning when I just knew I wanted to use the classical approach and had very “school-at-home” ideas. Then, due to his very right-brained visual and hands-on learning style and his needs and abilities due to mild Asperger’s Syndrome and a strong interest in science and building things, we unschooled of necessity, something I thought we would never do. We gradually started adding textbooks, like “Story of the World” for history and “Time 4 Learning,” mostly for math. Now he seems ready for and in need of more structure and some activities to ease him into formal learning. Here are some of the tools I will use.

History: we are sticking with “Story of the World, Vol. II” for history, since it works for him and he loves history. Of course, we add many books, maps, a globe, videos, activities, museums and kits to enrich and make it more fun, and to include more geography. We are covering the Middle Ages up to exploration and discovery, and will then move into a study of American history using Joy Hakim’s “A History of US” series. That may start during the traditional school year or after. It doesn’t matter.

Science: Since we had good success with “Real Science 4 Kids, Chemistry, Pre-level 1,” we will use RS4K  Biology, Physics, and Chemistry Level 1 this year. Each book only takes a short part of the year to complete and we will do the experiments and supplement with experiments from the great (but expensive) “Supercharged Science” kit, which we already owned and have used a bit. We will also read a lot of books about science and scientists. Of course, he will continue to pursue his interest in robotics, also.

Math: We will be making a big switch this year to a program that seems geared to Dana’s way of learning with methods we have already utilized successfully. The “Math on the Level” program seems to be written for learning from life experiences, games and manipulative activities. “Five a Day” math problems provide review, promote retention and check it. While using this approach recently, he actually enjoyed math and learned easily. Major milestone for us! We will also continue using living math books. Other resources will help follow this plan.

Handwriting: This has been a real problem for Dana. We did “Handwriting Without Tears,” and it worked for a while, but he still hates and strenuously avoids handwriting. I tried moving him to cursive, and either because of maturation or because it flows more easily, he actually likes it! We are adopting “Loops and Other Groups” to move him into cursive writing the right way. This is another major milestone for us! We are also using “Train the Brain” exercises to help him through “multi-sensory handwriting.” 

Spelling: We will continue using “All About Spelling,” which is working well and he likes the hands-on aspect of the colored letter magnets.

Language/Grammar: Probably we will use a combination of “Junior Analytical Grammar” and “Easy Grammar,” and some file folder games. He learns grammar fairly easily and retains it well. We will also continue using “English From the Roots Up,” which we started recently. This will segue nicely into the “Real Science 4 Kids Chemistry Connects to Language” toward the end of the year.

Spanish: Due to his expressed interest, we are starting Spanish using the “Rosetta Stone Spanish Explorer” and will see how it goes.

Reading: Dana is a very good reader, but needs to learn or practice skills like identifying the main idea, details, etc. He also needs to learn how to research information and a number of other skills which we will address using a variety of materials and resources, including a unit study on the “Little House” books using “The Prairie Primer,” and lapbooks on other history related books. He will read or be read to from many books for both pleasure and information.

Music: We will use a variety of resources, including tapes, records and CDs, as well as several books and a course on learning to play the recorder (and a good recorder, of course).

Art: “Artistic Pursuits” teaching book, numerous art supplies, visits to museums.

Keyboarding/typing: After he found he didn’t like free online typing programs and CDs I had purchased, we are using the simple and straight-forward typing program that is available to purchasers of the workboxes system book. It is working and he likes it.

Which brings us to our new system – workboxes. This blog has received more visitors looking for information on using workboxes than any other thing (with the bean plant experiment running second). I have posted a lot about how we use workboxes, so I won’t go into detail here, except to say once again that the system, like each of the books above, is just a tool in my toolbox and we will use, adapt, draw from, or even drop as needed to best promote positive learning experiences and results.

 Some of the things we will be using are rather expensive, but will last us for several years. If not, they are very easy to resell, but I don’t expect to do that for a while. By the way, if you follow the links and like what you see, I advise that you Google the product to find the best price. Often second-hand is best. Anyway, this is what I have decided will work for us. We have tried most of it using the workboxes, and so far it all seems to be a good fit. For the first time, things seem to be coming together to provide a “best fit” program that Dana enjoys and willingly learns from. His joy in learning is back and my joy in homeschooling is, too. I just hope it keeps up (and that I can keep up with him!). I am anxious to get started on a fun new year after I recharge my batteries!  We will be flexible, as always. These are only the tools we will use to get the job done, after all.

I hope this will at least give you some ideas to check out to help you find the right tools for your homeschool toolbox.

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Bach and Building

Bach and Building

Here are a couple more pictures from the same day using the workboxes. He is listening to “Mr. Bach Comes to Call” while building with his Lego Mindstorms robotics kit. He has also listened to “Beethoven Lives Upstairs” while programing with “Scratch.” He enjoys the stories and music (he is partial to classical music), but needs something to do with his hands.
Practicing Keyboarding

Practicing Keyboarding

Dana has discovered that he likes learning to keyboard. Surprisingly, he didn’t like any online or CD typing program, but finds the material available to purchasers of the workboxes book is just right for him. Here, he is using the keyboard to a V-Tech Nitro Vision hooked up to a portable DVD viewer to type. The keyboard is smaller, so it is probably easier for him, while preparing him for any keyboard.

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Here are some photos of Dana homeschooling . These show just a few of the lessons and activities I put in the workboxes. More later.

Snack & reading on the beanbag chair

Snack & reading on the beanbag chair

Spanish with Rosetta Stone


All About Spelling with magnetic letters

All About Spelling with magnetic letters

math game

Multiplication game Dana's way

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OK, for the benefit of those who expressed an interest in how the workboxes were working with my right-brained boy, it is full disclosure time, even though we have only been at it for a short time. (I did tell you that we homeschool year-round, with breaks as needed, didn’t I?) 

We were tooling along for a few days with great interest on my boy’s part. Oh, so on schedule! One day he asked to switch language with spelling (All About Spelling) because he likes doing the spelling with the magnetic letter cards on the door. He loves doing math file folder activities and board games and is starting to do well in math! If I let his break go on too long, he comes and tells me it is time to get back to the workboxes!

We are, as many have said, getting in more work and different activities in a day than ever before, and with a totally different atmosphere of cheerful willingness. We use the workboxes. We are not controlled by them. I am letting the time it takes him to complete the workbox set the time schedule. Some are finished in 5-10 minutes, some are 30 minutes. If we get into a project he wants to keep working on, that will be OK with me. We can adjust. Maybe he just needed more structure, maybe it is the visual aspect, maybe he feels more in control. I don’t know, but it works so far, so I am not worrying about,”Why?”
Then yesterday he wanted a day off from the workboxes, so I said, “OK, we can skip a day” He spent almost the entire day building and programing with his RCX robotics kit (his passion), so I don’t consider that a lost day, just not exactly the workbox schedule. Today, we got a late start, and quite honestly, there was less enthusiasm (OK, he grumbled a bit), but he did Spanish with “Rosetta Stone”, spelling with “All About Spelling”, and a math file folder that was a bit challenging. Then he got a snack (from the next box) and a break. While he was on break I was previewing some videos and online learning games about the parts of a flower (which we recently covered) and cells (coming next in his science for tomorrow). He got interested and wanted to do the labelling games right then, so I (seizing the teachable moment) told him to go ahead. He finished them, doing very well, went off for a few minutes and came back making up a word problem and solving it. Then he started asking questions about how you split an atom, and how do they make new elements artificially,and where are the synthetically made elements on the periodic table. … There went the next few workboxes, which included music, handwriting, “English From the Roots Up” and beginning keyboarding. (By the way, if you think I knew the answers to all his questions, you think wa..a..a..y too highly of my scientific knowledge! Fortunately, the periodic table was handy, though.)

Are the workboxes working? I still say, “Yes!” But I refuse to force him away from legitimate learning interests just to stay on schedule. Are we still doing child directed learning? Again I say, “Yes! (with qualifications)” The key is to make the system fit his learning style while using it to impose some direction and routine, which he also needs. Just as I wrote on my blog about using a curriculum, the system is a guide, not the goal. It is the child that matters. Now some of the the folks on the workboxes list, and certainly the author of the book, might say I am not doing workboxes the right way. Doesn’t bother me! I didn’t/don’t do unschooling or classical the “right” way, either. I believe in doing what works for us. And right now, the workbox system has very definite advantages for us as a core approach. But work in boxes filled for today can be done tomorrow if some wonderful unexpected learning opportunity presents itself or he has sudden worthwhile special interests. So, I am off to fill boxes for tomorrow and hope it is as fulfilling as today.

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As the remodeling and reorganizing starts to wind down, I have to go and discover a new system for homeschooling that requires another method of organizing and implementing our studies! Actually, it doesn’t change what we do a lot, except to get us more organized and provide Dana with some visual motivation.

I came across “Sue Patrick’s Workbox System” and thought it just might put the fire and fun back in our studies, so I bought the book and have been working to get it set up. My grandson is excited about it and anxious to start using it, so that is benefit number one.

The physical structure of the system involves the use of 6 to 12 numbered clear shoeboxes to be filled with the day’s curriculum, including “fun” but educational stuff and even snacks. The system is designed to encourage children to work independently as much as possible and to visually encourage and motivate them to complete the day’s activities and studies. 

Many people who adopt the system say that they are able to get in all those things they had meant to do but never seemed to get around to before, and that their children are getting more work done quicker than ever with the workboxes. 

Since a routine, while hard for my free-wheeling family,  might be beneficial but not so easy to implement, this system looks like an easy alternative to a rigid time schedule. Dana is moving into the age when he should be ready for more structured and independent learning and with his AS, providing him with organization and structure is good. He is also a very visual and hands-on boy, so a visual and hands-on system is a natural fit.

I am including file-folder games, educational board games, kits, lapbook making, computer games, and other fun approaches suited to his learning style and learning needs, as well as books to read to him (including texts), videos, learning centers (especially science labs), and his 4-H robotics workbook and building and programming activities. Exercise is also on the schedule with timed running, Wii exercises, and swimming. I am even hoping to use it to encourage more independent reading, which he has gotten away from.

I have been trying to set up the boxes for next Monday (we homeschool year-round with breaks), since that helps me see just how ready I am to begin. It is hard because Dana comes along and begs to go ahead and do some of the things in the boxes now – like the “S’MATH” board game, or even the file-folder math game. (Dana begging to do math!!!??)

We are excited about trying the new system. Now I just need a life-time supply of velcro dots!

I will post photos of our remodeled and rearranged learning area, as soon as the rest of the boxes are emptied, papers sorted, and the hammock swing chair is hung.

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